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|Title:||E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial|
|Rating:||3 out of 5|
Everyone says Atari's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial video game sucks and I suspect 95% of those folks are the usual lemmings who jump on the hate-wagon without knowing any of the details. Whether any of these consumate haters have ever played the game, it's got a juicy legend worthy of gaming lore! And that's enough for us to delve into the inner workings of ET and how to MacGyver-manufacture an inter-stellar phone from spare parts to communicate with aliens.
Before you buy into all the negativity surrounding Atari's ET game, look at what's involved in the actual game play. It's much more complex a game than anyone ever admits. Sure the controls aren't great and its way too easy to fall back into the well (pit) you just came out of, but there are many more simplistic games for the Atari 2060 that strive harder to earn the phrase, "this sucks".
If you haven't seen the ET movie and the phrase "Phone home" has no meaning for you, I can only assume you're currently twelve years old or slept through the early 1980s. ET was all the rage - from lunch boxes and t-shirts to... well... everything! That flick blew up! Around this same time video game developers and execs decided that any game based on a popular movie would be equally successful. This premise was largely true, but wanes if the tie-in game is panned by nearly every gamer, reviewer and human inhabitant of Earth.
Upon firing up the game the startup screen has a nice rendering of our slimy space-buddy and the iconic music is quite well replicated (for an 8-bit game). This is where kids on Christmas morning in 1982 got stoked for a great game. Atari's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was a sought after present that holiday season. Minutes later - possible a half-hour - these same kids were cursing Santa and wondering WTF was going on with this game. Many of these kids would gladly have donated their ET game carts to the Alamogordo landfill - but that comes later.
My belief is these Christmas Critters were accustomed to the usual simplicity offered by many games where the goals and game-play were pretty straight-forward like - shoot a the bad guys. Adventure came out in 1979 so I'd think that folks would be somewhat familiar with a game in which goals are achieved across multiple screens and have carry-over effects as the game develops.
Since this game was based on a very popular movie, lets not confuse Spielberg's story with it's 8-bit companion game. You'll find the cast of characters from ET and Elliot to nefarious FBI spooks with the plot focusing on Phoning Home. To phone anyone, you need a phone. ET's first priority is to cobble together a phone so he can summon the mothership to return for him. A lot of people complained about this singular goal - to which I ask, "What the fuck did you think the plot of the movie was? Phoning the fuck home!!!" So anyway...
ET's goal is to collect pieces he needs to build a phone to contact the mother ship, collect Reeses Pieces for energy, avoid the FBI and Scientist while getting to the Landing Zone before running out of energy. See - there's more to this game than you may have thought.
The game begins with ET descending in a ship and being left on Earth. You begin to explore the wells to find Hershey's energy and phone parts. As you move you will see your energy depleting which gets frustrating as you unintentionally fall into wells. The joystick moves ET in 8 directions and lets him levitate out of wells (his head even raises- cool!). Despite a single fire button, ET can do different things with it based on what zone he's in. Each zone assigns a new "action" to the fire button from eating to interacting with humans.
As you lose energy, Elliot can come to the rescue and revive ET for more well-explorations. This can happen 3 times per game. The game ends if you run out of energy prior to being rescued by the mother ship. A nice facet is the ability to carry over your bonus points after each rescue. This lets you play multiple times, keeping your score and the game even redistributes the phone parts to new wells. This way you won't find them in all the same places.
Don't forget... humans can't go into wells, so they make good escape routes if you have no other options. Wells also can be used as a pause in the game - nothing can harm ET when he's in a well and his energy remains constant as long as he is still. Even though Reeses Pieces are damn tasty, give them to Elliot to max your bonus score. If you find yourself falling back into a well as soon as you exit, try shifting the joystick horizontally to put ET on solid ground. A "?" appears when a phone part is in one of the current screen's wells.
Aside from Elliot, humans are the bad guys. An FBI agent can touch ET thus taking away his phone parts and candy. The scientist can detain him for study. ET needs to avoid these guys as well as accidentally falling into wells which costs energy to get out.
The Game Select switch lets you choose from three different variations in which you can control the types of humans you will encounter.
Game 3 is the easiest game variation and might be a good place to start.
If that isn't enough, you can also control speed and landing conditions with the Difficulty Switches. The RIGHT DIFFICULTY switch controls the speed of the humans. In the A position, the humans move faster than in the B position. The LEFT DIFFICULTY switch determines the landing conditions for the rescue ship. If the switch is in position A, Elliott cannot be present on the landing field when the rescue ship arrives. If the switch is in the B position, Elliott can be present when E.T. calls the ship and when it lands.
As you can see this game may not have the sort of re-play value of other games, but don't dismiss it as a crappy game or THE game that ruined Atari. It has many variables and options and was a commercial success. The issue was when Atari managed to produce many more units than the install-base of 2600s. Each 2600VCS owner will only buy 1 copy of a game, so don't manufacture more copies than consoles on which it can be played! Which brings us to the disposal of all those excess games...
For all the negativity surrounding E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, lets not forget it sold 1.5 million copies! One of the issues was the grand excess of product created beyond that 1.5 million units. The game was a commercial success, but this excess - estimated between 2.5 and 3.5 million units - was a costly blunder. So what do you do with all that extra product? eBay? Kick-ass online give-aways? Those options didn't exist in the early 80s so they did what any respectable savvy company would do - DUMP EM IN A LANDFILL OUT IN THE DESERT.
Hard to believe. And that is what urban legend and lore is made of - disbelief. Would any rational person trash that much product? Think about the dumpster-diving possibilities. I'd gladly wade through garbage if the prize were a truckload of Atari product. Apparently that occurred to the Atari execs who found a landfill that buried daily and permanently.
OK, but is all this true?
In September 1983, the Alamogordo Daily News in New Mexico ran a story claiming twenty semi-trailer truckloads of Atari boxes, cartridges, and miscellaneous crap were crushed and buried at the town landfill. It was used because no scavenging was allowed and garbage was crushed and buried daily.
On September 28, 1983, The New York Times ran an article titled, "Atari Parts Are Dumped"
With the video game business gone sour, some manufacturers have been dumping their excess game cartridges on the market at depressed prices.
Now Atari Inc., the leading video game manufacturer, has taken dumping one step farther.
The company has dumped 14 truckloads of discarded game cartridges and other computer equipment at the city landfill in Alamogordo, N.M. Guards kept reporters and spectators away from the area yesterday as workers poured concrete over the dumped merchandise. An Atari spokesman said the equipment came from Atari's plant in El Paso, Tex., which used to make videogame cartridges but has now been converted to recycling scrap. Atari lost $310.5 million in the second quarter, largely because of a sharp drop in video game sales.
None of the articles came out to say it was ET cartridges being dumped, but a few hints and speculation made this a logical conclusion... which is what makes this such a great tale!
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